The 10th annual Canadian Open Freeskiing Championships senior event was a success: incredible skiing, no major injuries, great sportsmanship, a big party, local skiers performing well and, unexpectedly, Mother Nature pulled some good visibility out of her bag for the finals last Saturday.
Red Mountain’s Colston Beatson and Leah Evans both earned prize money, placing fourth and fifth, respectively.
The top three finishers among the women were Kasie Stroshin of Whistler, Julie Thomas of Calgary, and Rachel Findler of Whistler. The top three men were CJ Wright of Revelstoke, Alex Wall of Nelson, and Lars Chickering-Ayers of Utah.
Most of the competitors hailed from B.C. and Alberta, but among the 20 women were three Americans, and among the 48 men were two Ontarians, seven Americans, and a skier each from China, Sweden, and Czech Republic.
Day one opened in a thick bank of cloud. “I couldn’t see a lot,” said Chris Lawrence, the announcer for the Canadian open for the last seven years.
The qualifiers on Link’s Line went ahead anyway, with judges placed at several locations along the length of the run.
“We only saw the last third of the run,” Lawrence said, “but I saw Yu Sasaki huck a backflip off a mogul. That was cool.”
“It was tough skiing, tough visibility,” said Jeff Holden, the event’s main organizer for the last five years, a judge for 11, and a competitive freeskier from 1997 to 2000, winning the 1999 world tour.
The comp’s only injury occurred almost just as it started, with Whistler’s CJ Johnson damaging her ankle and requiring a toboggan to base.
Rossland’s Duncan Browning fell in his run and failed to qualify. Rossland’s Caley Mulholland also caught an edge on her run, but made it through qualifiers and eventually took 15th place.
“That’s the crapshoot roulette of day one,” Lawrence said.
Day two was a total whiteout. “The viz is slim, it’s pretty braille,” Holden said.
“There’s a huge cloud layer and we’re on stand-by. It ain’t going up and it ain’t going down,” Lawrence said.
Holden decided to call it a weather day and allow the competitors time to inspect the north face of Mt. Roberts.
“Skiing was pretty decent up top,” he reported. “Skiers’ right after the snaggletooth, that’s where it starts to get a little thicker with a bit of a wind skin. Further down it turns into a pretty thin, totally breakable crust.”
“It’ll put you to the test,” he told the competitors, “1,800 foot vert of solid skiing.”
Day three would become the finals in a single run instead of the usual two run. Scores are calculated cumulatively from all the runs. To everyone’s relief, the day broke clear, with clouds rolling in over Robbie from the south.
The face remained clearly visible from across the valley on Ledges Traverse for the entire competition until literally minutes after the final run by Alex Wall when the cloud bank fully cloaked Robbie once again.
As Colston Beatson waited on top for his run – which brought him up to fourth from seventh place — he was feeling “very good, very excited.”
“It’s clear, it’s beautiful, it’s not foggy anymore. Can’t wait to ski fast and have fun.”
Beatson has competed at the Red’s Canadian Open since he was 13 and is now heading to Whistler to film.
“It’s the comp that always stays the same and is one of the funnest stops of the year,” he said. “It’s my home mountain and my favourite place to ski.”
Leah Evans is now skiing and filming in Japan.
“This comp is really more like a stepping stone for bigger and better things,” Lawrence explained. “All the local guys around here like Mike Hopkins and Dane Tudors used to come and do this comp.”
Holden was happy with what he saw.
“I saw some smart skiing out there. Skiing’s got more aggressive over the years, the bar’s always being raised.”
He’s also looking to the next generation of rippers, with the junior event taking place on Jan. 21 and 22, with competitors aged seven to 18 letting it all out on Link’s Line.
“The juniors are packing the house!” Holden said. “It’s only a matter of time, if you look at the numbers in the 12-15 age category. By the time they hit 18,19, we’re going to see another surge.”